Welcome to our weekly “Trumptastrophe” series, that serves to remind us all of the destructive policies, decisions, and actions we encountered during the Trump presidency and the threats that he and others in the MAGA movement still pose – and to keep those moments clear in our memory as we fight to defeat Republican extremists during the upcoming elections.
This week’s recap highlights the many ways that Trump has evaded accountability and how Republicans continue to distract and lie to the American people about his lawbreaking in order to improve their electoral chances in the 2024 elections:
Trump’s habitual lawbreaking, abuse of power, and defiance of democratic norms led to his being impeached twice by the U.S. House of Representatives.
On Jan. 15, 2020, House leaders delivered impeachment charges to the Senate over Trump’s holding up congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine to pressure the country’s leader to announce an investigation of Joe Biden; the impeachment vote was held in December 2019.
On Jan. 11, 2021, the House voted to impeach Trump for having fomented a violent effort to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after he lost the 2020 election. In both cases, Republicans rallied to Trump’s defense and blocked convictions in the subsequent Senate impeachment trials.
Trump’s rhetoric in response to the first impeachment vote is strikingly similar to what we hear from him today in response to the civil and criminal trials he is facing. His legal team insisted that Trump had done “absolutely nothing wrong” and Trump denounced the effort as a “hoax.” Trump’s attorneys claimed that the impeachment was a political attempt “to interfere in the 2020 election”—a remarkable complaint given that Trump was charged with abusing his power to bully a foreign government into helping him get reelected.
The 2021 impeachment moved forward after Vice President Mike Pence made it clear that he would not act to remove Trump from office by declaring him unfit to serve under the 25th Amendment. Impeachment and conviction could have barred Trump from holding federal office in the future, but Senate Republicans once again let him off the hook.
GOP leader Mitch McConnell said at the time that Trump could be held accountable by other means, including the criminal justice system. Trump’s own lawyer had said the same thing, as Brian Bennett noted this month in TIME magazine: “We have a judicial process in this country; we have an investigative process in this country to which no former officeholder is immune.”
Of course, Trump’s lawyers are now claiming the exact opposite—that he cannot be held accountable by the criminal justice for any crimes he committed as president unless he was first impeached and convicted by the Senate. During oral arguments, appeals court judges noted the shift in Trump’s claims:
“The argument was there’s no need to vote for impeachment because we have this back stop which is criminal prosecution and it seems that many senators relied on that in voting to acquit,” Judge Florence Y. Pan, who was appointed by President Joe Biden, told Trump’s legal team. One of Trump’s lawyers, D. John Sauer, said that the court shouldn’t speculate about what motivated senators in the impeachment process.
Trump has made it clear that he’s opposed to either himself or his allies facing accountability for wrongdoing. On his way out the door in Jan. 2021, Trump pardoned his former aide Steve Bannon, who was awaiting trial on fraud charges. Bannon now stirs up MAGA activists on Trump’s behalf through his War Room podcast.
Here’s how Trump’s impeachments—and Republicans’ refusal to hold him accountable for wrongdoing—highlight the threats of a future Trump presidency:
- Trump and his lawyers now argue that Trump has total immunity from criminal prosecution for anything he did as president. Trump has made it clear that if he returns to the White House, he will wield the FBI and Justice Department as weapons against his political opponents and personal enemies. We know how much lawbreaking Trump and his allies were willing to do to stay in power after losing the 2020 election. Imagine what he might do with that power if the Supreme Court tells him he’ll be immune from criminal liability.
- Trump’s impeachments and acquittals showed that, with few exceptions, Republicans in the House and Senate lacked the desire or courage to hold Trump accountable for his wrongdoing—even after he put their lives at risk by mobilizing a mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. There are precious few Republican officials willing to even criticize Trump. U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson has happily declared himself to be “all in” for Trump. A Republican-majority House and Senate could not be counted on to be any sort of check on Trump’s authoritarian revenge fantasies and authoritarian impulses.
- Right-wing religious, legal, and political leaders who helped put Trump in office and tried to keep him there also opposed his impeachments. During his term in office, they used him to strengthen their ideological control of the Supreme Court. And now they are preparing to use his possible return to power to “take the reins of government” by replacing thousands of professional civil servants with MAGA loyalists, further removing any potential constraints on his well-documented disdain for following the law.
- This year, Trump has tried to turn his bank fraud trial in New York into a platform for riling up followers with claims of political persecution. On Wednesday night, Trump lied to supporters in Iowa, saying he was being “forced” to return to New York, even though in this civil trial he had no obligation to attend what he has called “a rigged and unfair trial.” On Thursday, Jan. 11, the day of closing arguments, a bomb threat was made against Judge Engoron’s home. Later that day, Trump defied instructions of Judge Engoron by interrupting court proceedings to decry the case against him, stating in part “We have a situation where I am an innocent man. […] This is a fraud on me. What’s happened here, sir, is a fraud on me.” Trump’s lawyers were previously instructed that he would only be allowed to speak if his comments were specific to the law and evidence in the case and he was not to make a campaign speech (clearly Trump just couldn’t help himself).
Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend bonus: In 2018, Emory University Prof. George Yancy asked in The New York Times, “Will America Choose King’s Dream or Trump’s Nightmare?” Speaking of those who defended Trump’s racist comments, Yancy wrote, “The problem with lying, obfuscation and making excuses, though, is that one is often forced to tell more lies, cloud the truth, make more excuses.” We see you, MAGA Republicans!
These are just some of the reasons we need YOU in this fight. So, find your favorite way to unwind after reading through this week’s recap, and then make a plan for how you will fight back THIS week, this MONTH, this election cycle.